Stoughton loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth inning in a tied game and looked to squeeze the winning run across. Junior Pat Hagerty laid down a near perfect bunt down the first base line but the ball just trickled foul. At the next at bat, Hagerty didn’t get a second chance at the bunt, instead getting drilled in the leg with a fastball.
But that was just fine for the Black Knights, as Hagerty took first and forced junior Luke Johnson in from home for the winning run, giving Stoughton a 3-2 win over Nauset and a spot in the D2 South Semifinal.
“I asked him if he knew the sign for the squeeze,” Stoughton head coach Mike Armour said with a chuckle when asked what the message was to Hagerty going into his final at bat. “That squeeze would have been nice. We made it clear and I had full faith that he could get the bunt down. With the lefty on the mound, we felt like it was a pretty high percentage play. We almost got it done but to see him get that run across the plate, anyway he could, was great. We beat a very good baseball team today and I’m so proud of these guys, they gutted it out. It was an absolute war like we expected, just couldn’t be more proud of the guys.”
Stoughton trailed twice in the game, a 1-0 run after just a half inning and a 2-1 deficit just a half inning after the Black Knights had tied it. Stoughton tied the game in the bottom of the sixth, eventually sending the game to extra innings.
Johnson got things started in the bottom of the ninth, roping a lead off double down the left field line. Nick Hardy attempted a sacrifice bunt and Nauset pitcher Paul Prue charged in and tried to look Hagerty back at second. Instead, he was unable to field the ball cleanly and Hardy reached safely. Prue induced a fly out to second but junior Justin Hutchinson worked himself to a walk with a full count, loading the bases.
That’s when Hagerty was hit on the leg on the second pitch to send the Black Knights into the semifinal round.
Nauset took the lead in the first inning when Prue led off the game with a double and moved to third on a ground out to second. Nauset’s Mac Labarge hit a dribbler back up the middle and Stoughton pitcher Ryan Sullivan charged and flipped to catcher Jake Gibb. Gibb appeared to make the tag in time, with the home plate ump calling Prue out. However, an appeal from Nauset and a discussion between the umps resulted in a reverse decision and a 1-0 lead.
It looked like Stoughton would not only tie the game but possibly take the lead in the third inning when Ruben Gonzalez (single), Hutchinson (error) and Hagerty (walk) all reached consecutively to load the bases with no outs. Nauset starting pitcher Mike Doherty induced a shallow pop up to right to get the first out but Gibb skied one to left field, deep enough for a sacrifice fly to tie the game. Doherty got the third out via a grounder to get out of the inning with just one run allowed.
The Warriors responded immediately with Doherty launching a two-out double and Kino Gray following it up with an RBI triple into right center field. Sullivan got out of the inning with a ground ball to first.
Gibb got Stoughton’s tying run rally in the sixth started with a one-out single through the left field of the infield. Nauset decided to bring Prue in to replace Doherty. Prue pitched a complete game two-hit shutout this past Thursday against Oliver Ames. That didn’t bother the Black Knights though.
“We were aware of who he was and at that point in the game, it was just bring it on,” Armour said.
Jack Connelly grounded into a fielder’s choice to move pinch runner Matt Gallagher to second. Ryan Sullivan then reached on a grounder to third as Gallagher was able to elude the tag in the base path and Sullivan was ahead of the throw. Johnson then muscled a hit over the head of the third baseman to bring in the tying run.
“They answered us quick and went back up one,” Armour said. “For Luke to come through and just muscle it over the third baseman’s head was huge. Then following it up, spraying it down the left field line to start the ninth to get into scoring position…it was just a hell of a day. Across the board, it’s been a team effort. Across the board, this has been such a tight group.”
The tying run seemed to inspire Sullivan on the mound. He came back out in the top of the seventh inning and struck out the side, needing just 13 pitches. Sullivan came back out in the top of the eighth, getting the Warriors in order, punctuating his performance with his seventh strikeout.
In the top of the ninth, Nauset attempted to regain the lead against Stoughton reliever Nico Parmegianni. Doherty led off with a single but Parmegianni induced a pop up for the first out. Parmegianni got another fly ball, this one to right field, where Sullivan relocated after coming off the mound. Sullivan charged in, catching the ball and firing a rocket — after throwing eight innings — right on the mark at first for the double play.
“Sully, just digging down with eight innings and then capping it with that absolute solid play on that pop up,” Armour said. “It’s been a while since he’s pitches so he was well rested. I think he had the curveball working for him today, his cutter was kicking in as well and he was just throwing, he had good stuff.”
Stoughton baseball advances to the D2 South Semifinal for the first time since 2013. The Black Knights will take on top seeded Dighton-Rehoboth on Wednesday at Rockland High School. First pitch is set for 4:00.
Ryan Lanigan can be contacted at RyanLanigan@hockomocksports.com and followed on Twitter at @R_Lanigan.